How to Follow a Gluten-Free Diet

Celiac sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease of the intestines, which is caused by gluten, a protein found in various cereal grains. Therefore, a person with celiac disease should follow a gluten-free diet.

Woman buying cereals at the market
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Where Gluten's Found

The principal sources of gluten in the diet include wheat, rye, and barley. Oats may be tolerated in small amounts by some patients with celiac sprue, although those with severe disease typically do not.

Dairy foods may not be tolerated when someone with celiac disease has active symptoms since lactose intolerance frequently develops. However, this is due to the lactose sugar in the dairy foods, rather than the proteins, which can cause milk allergy.

Common Gluten-Free Foods

Foods such as soybean flour, tapioca flour, rice, corn, buckwheat, and potatoes are usually safe for people with celiac disease. See below for more information regarding a gluten-free diet.

Why Follow a Gluten-Free Diet?

  • Even if there are no obvious symptoms, celiac sprue can cause serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies, since the intestines may not be able to absorb important nutrients if gluten is being eaten.
  • Rates of certain cancers of the gastrointestinal tract are much higher in people with celiac sprue, and there is evidence that this risk is decreased with a gluten-free diet.
  • People with active celiac disease are at increased risk for other autoimmune conditions, (such as diabetes mellitus type 1, Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) especially those with continued gluten exposure.
  • Mothers with untreated celiac disease are at increased risk for having a low birth weight baby.

How to Follow a Gluten-Free Diet

First, reading all labels on prepared foods is important. Do not eat any foods that contain the following:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Flour or cereal products
  • Vegetable protein
  • Malt and malt flavorings
  • Starches (unless specified as corn starch, which does not contain gluten)
  • Various flavorings, which can be derived from cereals containing gluten
  • Vegetable gum
  • Emulsifiers, stabilizers derived from cereals containing gluten

Next, especially when eating at a restaurant, avoid the following:

  • Breaded foods
  • Creamed foods
  • Meatloaf and gravies

The following are good choices for a gluten-free diet:

  • Broiled or roasted meats (beef, poultry, fish)
  • Plain vegetables
  • Plain salads
  • Potatoes (white, sweet, yams)
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Fruits
  • Breads and baked goods made from alternative flours (rice, soy, tapioca, arrowroot, potato)
  • Breakfast cereals containing only rice, corn, grits or hominy (Such as puffed rice). Some people with celiac disease may tolerate oats as well.

Other Recommendations Regarding Nutrition

It is a good idea to see a dietician or nutritionist on a regular basis to ensure that your gluten-free diet is well balanced and meeting nutritional needs. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe various vitamin supplements to make up for any nutritional deficiencies.

Since bone loss is a common problem in people with celiac sprue (due in part to vitamin D deficiency), frequent monitoring with bone density scans is recommended.

Consider buying a cookbook with gluten-free recipe ideas and visit various sites specializing in the support of people with celiac disease like the National Celiac Association.​

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Ciclitira PJ. Management of Celiac Disease. UpToDate.
  • Lakness J. Allergy Elimination Diets. In: Lawlor GJ, Fischer TJ, Adelman DC, eds. Manual of Allergy and Immunology. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co;1995:553-55.

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.